This week saw a massive overhaul of Sydney’s public transport timetables, and this, along with the ongoing construction works around the city and suburbs have left many of us feeling a bit overwhelmed. Today we thought we’d look at the history of one of Sydney’s older modes of public transport. Did you know the City Circle took almost 100 years to come about?
Thanks to the Transport Heritage Grants Program, the Dictionary has recently published a new essay by historian Mark Dunn about the development of Sydney’s underground railway and its complex design and construction.
The earliest suggestion for the extension of the railway into the city came in 1857 after the first railway opened in 1855. The first Sydney railway terminus was close to where Central Station is now, in what was then known as an outpost of the city called Cleveland Paddocks. Many Royal Commissions and enquiries investigated the issue, but no real plans were pursued until 1906 when the first stage of Central Station was opened.
In 1911 the engineer JJC Bradfield proposed plans to the Public Works Committee which included the city loop, as well as lines through the eastern and western suburbs. He ambitiously envisioned the loop could carry between 36,000 and 42,000 passengers per hour. The city loop plans were prioritised over the other lines and excavations commenced in Hyde Park for the railway and its first stations, Museum and St James.
The first section between Central and St James was opened in 1926 and the tunnelling between Town Hall and Wynyard was completed by 1931. These stations opened just three weeks before the Sydney Harbour Bridge, on 28 February 1932. Bradfield’s dream for Circular Quay Station was delayed by World War II and the tunnels were used as public air raid shelters at St James, sections of which remain in the disused tunnels. The station was finally opened in 1956, almost 100 years after the first mention of a city railway loop.
The stations were originally colour coded so that passengers could work out where they were, and the beautiful 1920s green tiles at St James were part of that system. Original tiles that are still in the disused tunnels at St James are used to replace broken tiles in the current public areas of the station.
The development of the City Circle line saw many other changes in the city as big retailers, like David Jones and Mark Foys, started building new stores near the stations. Construction work in the city like these now also needed to take into account the huge tunnels now under the ground. Hyde Park, which had been excavated, was reconstructed along the lines suggested by Norman Weekes in his prize winning plan, and large parts of Darling Harbour had been reclaimed with the excavated soil from the construction of the tunnels.
City Underground by Mark Dunn
Mark Dunn’s essay City Underground on the Dictionary of Sydney was one of five new entries looking at Sydney’s railway and transport heritage that were made possible thanks to the Transport Heritage Grants Program in 2016. They were produced in collaboration with the Australian Railway Historical Society and are available online now here.
The Transport Heritage Grants Program is a NSW Government funded program, administered by the Royal Australian Historical Society with the support of Transport Heritage NSW and we would like to acknowledge our gratitude for their support of the Dictionary of Sydney.
Nicole Cama is a professional historian, writer and curator, and the Executive Officer of the History Council of NSW. She appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity.
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